It started as an itch.
Pearse Lyons, the Dublin-born owner of global animal health company Alltech, saw the devastation in Haiti last January and was so moved by the television pictures that he decided to go there and do something for the largely homeless population.
An estimated three million people were badly affected by the earthquake – and that didn't take into account the 230,000 people who had died, the 300,000 who had been injured and the million left homeless. When he returned to his American base in Lexington, Kentucky, he told his colleagues in the flesh and via tele-conference and email about the scale of the devastation he had witnessed first-hand. He pledged to all his 2,300 workers that if they raised money to help, he would match whatever sum they came up with.
Within a few weeks the employees had come up with $100,000. He matched and dispatched that figure on a cheque for $200,000 to help the world's poorest in their hour of need.
But by then the itch had become a scratch.
He had to go back to visit the country again. This time, he walked the streets of Port-au-Prince. He walked the dirt-tracks of the villages. He looked into the eyes of the old and he looked into the eyes of schoolchildren and all they seemed to ask of life was that it gave them one thing – hope.
Whatever was in the itch or the scratch was now coursing in his blood.
He knew he wasn't just going to throw money at an nation on its knees and leave it at that. He was going to roll up his sleeves and get into the trenches with the locals. He 'adopted' the village of Ouanaminthe, where he had seen something in the eyes of 300 schoolchildren that he knew he could not walk away from.
Lyons saw that giving money was the equivalent of giving an egg. You feed someone for a day. But give that person a hen and you can feed him or her for years and years. And that's what was needed.
So he asked questions. "What does Haiti produce here?" The answer was "nothing".
"What do you export from here?" The answer was "very little".
The entrepreneur in Lyons – who has seen his Alltech company grow from humble beginnings operating out of his own garage 30 years ago to a company with a turnover approaching half-a-billion dollars this year – clicked in as he surveyed the scene.
"Looking at Haiti with its problems and challenges I could see there was an opportunity for Alltech to get involved and make a difference. It wasn't about making money, it was more about making waves," he explained. "Alltech Haiti was born in that moment and we had adopted Ouanaminthe as a village we would look after."
"Do you grow any coffee?" he asked.
"They said that they did not have coffee but they used to. So why would we not begin to grow some coffee in Haiti and use it in our various businesses? We could build a marketing programme around this and at the same time this would be something to help, not just Haiti, but a little school in Haiti, our new little friends. Why don't we talk about sustainability? Why don't we put up a small poultry unit? It seems here that Sundays are a big deal; they buy their chickens live but there are not enough chickens. Most come from the Dominican Republic. Why not teach these young people to raise chickens? Why not make a little co-op? They all love eggs but have no way of producing eggs. Why not put free-range egg production in place? Why not have some pigs? A chicken-and-egg solution to a chicken-and-egg problem.
Lyons' mantra of 'let's get started' meant that, by the time his plane had taken off back to America after his second visit, plans were already afoot. He is hiring graduates from Haiti to go to the
country to 'get it going'.
But this week on a visit to Ireland, he revealed that he was hatching bigger plans for the beleaguered nation. He wants to link what he is doing for the upcoming Alltech World Equestrian Games in Kentucky with a sort of Live Aid gig for Haiti.
"We have the Vienna Philharmonic under its 28-year-old hotshot conductor Gustavo 'The Dude' Dudamel playing during the games. We have Ronan Tynan signed up, and when I heard that Bono had to cancel his American tour because of his back problems, I thought: 'Would he come and headline a Love-Haiti gig in September when hopefully he is back to full health?' We could get the Commonwealth Stadium in the University of Kentucky for that. Who knows, we could even link up The Dude and Bono. Two cool dudes. Now that would attract worldwide attention."
He continued: "The Irish have been great at that sort of thing and if I could get the Corrs and any other big Irish names, I would arrange to get a private jet to fly them over, put them up and fly them back. Such a night would raise money but it would also heighten awareness for Haiti's ongoing needs. It is so easy to forget the scale of this earthquake. We owe those people the hope for the future they are looking for.
"We will have 40 kids from Haiti in the six- to 12-year-old age bracket on stage with the stars. The Haitians love to sing. We'll do scholarships for them and help bring that part of their culture to the fore."
Lyons has seen first-hand what the likes of Denis O'Brien, who he has never met, have done on the ground. "He is doing great work. I find that everywhere people are eager to help. Take my neighbour Dr Bob Belin, who is 75 and retired. When I told him about the medical problems Haiti faced, he said he'd go down. His wife, who is a nurse, went too. They have a clinic going and are bringing down a dentist to help out. They are going to make a difference by being there and using their expertise."
The 'itch, scratch, blood' thing has now become a passion. "We are doing things quickly. That is our way. We might stumble but we will learn and get it right. We have done it in other countries so we know we can do it here. And this time, it is not about profit. It is about people. It is about giving hope to a generation who have suffered by bad leadership in the past."